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Plan would turn inmates into farmers

February 14, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - State officials have approved a plan to put inmates to work growing crops at the prison complex south of Hagerstown, more than two decades after farming there was halted.

"We're astounded. The whole (Washington County) delegation is in total disbelief," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, who had urged the Division of Correction to resume the program on an experimental basis.

The program will begin this summer, according to a letter from Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

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Initially, 10 inmates of the "proper security level" will work on a three-acre area surrounded by a 10-foot-high fence.

The inmates will earn $3.50 a day for their labor.

Three additional acres will be farmed each year for the next three years.

The prisoners will grow onions and potatoes. Apple trees will be planted and should begin yielding fruit in the third year of the program. If the program is successful, the amount of land to be farmed could increase to 18 acres of orchard and 41 acres in field crops.

"I just think it's tremendous. I just think it will be great," said Poole, who had considered Robinson's approval a longshot.

The program will cost the state about $10,000 in the first year, even taking into consideration money to be saved by using the crops within the prison system, the letter said. It is expected to take six years for the program to turn a profit.

"To me, that's really besides the point. The point is, we need to get inmates out of cell time and into working," Poole said.

Farming at the prison complex was initiated in 1935 and at one time employed more than 100 inmates. The program was phased out over a number of years, as prison systems around the country began to drop their agriculture programs.

In recent years, however, the farming programs have been revived in several states.

The idea is to teach the inmates a variety of skills, from business practices to farming the land, that they can take with them after they are released.

Robinson's letter said it is unlikely that inmates will find work in the agriculture area after their release, but said they would have the opportunity to learn a useful skill.

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